Through the foresight of the founding fathers and the sustained struggle of the present leadership of different Middle-Belt Associations, the region has come to occupy a pride of place in the scheme of things in the country.
No reasonable political bloc, group or individual can take it for granted and expect to succeed. The region has become, in a manner of speaking, “the beautiful bride, rather than prostitute of Nigerian politics,” its severe economic disadvantage notwithstanding.
The problems of Middle-Belt people, however, go beyond their strategic location. The major problem is socio-economic. This position will certainly evoke some revulsion in the minds of those, who have followed the evolution of “The New Vision” because it has been discussed times without number. However, as a patriotic member of the region, I know that the question of unity remains germane for any meaningful progress to be made.
Unity does not refer to the superficial identification with the region or mere vocalization of regional slogans. Rather, it refers to commonality of interests and a determination to protect and defend those interests, using all available legitimate means. It means that an ethnic group from any part of the region will see the other as a brother and be willing to assist him, irrespective of his religion or ethnic group. This is the true meaning of “unity in diversity.”
The question is: do the various ethnic groups in the Middle-Belt see themselves as one? Do they see themselves as having the same identity, common difficulties; hence need a common approach to solving them? Do minorities from Kebbi, Niger and Nassarawa, for example, see themselves as one with the minorities in Southern Kaduna, Plateau, Gombe, Adamawa and Taraba?
Do minorities in Taraba and Benue see themselves as one? What of minorities in one State such as Bwatiye, Lunguda, Kilba, Mbula, etc? Do they see themselves as one? Even among the same ethnic minority group, there are divisions along chiefdoms or village lines. How, then, can we hope to progress on a national scale when we cannot address these basic issues?
The second problem the region has to cope with is that of GREED. The average Middlebelter is a greedy person, highly protective of his position and egocentric. When a Middlebelter finds himself in a position of authority, elective or appointment, he claims to be a self-made person. The politician will boast that he used his money to buy the office. The public or civil servant will say he got there by hard work or merit.
No wonder, they are easily removed from such offices when they are perceived to be acquiring economic power, because they are alone. Some of them are brought on head-on collision when appointed to offices and left to fight themselves to finish. The region is not learning from the major ethnic groups. To the major ethnic groups, all positions – political or otherwise – are occupied on trust or on behalf of the larger majority.
When they find themselves in such positions, they try to make room for their own people, while they consciously try to organize resources for the general purse of the group. It is such funds that are used for development projects and the acquisition of political power.
The quest to raise money for the general purse is a conscious and deliberate effort; even the disable that roam the streets of this country beginning, make their input to it. That is why no government can stop street beginning by children, adults and the aged. It is a very lucrative venture, from which most Middle-Belt groups shy away – to their peril.
Even among the less cohesive of majority ethnic groups, who place much emphasis on personal achievement, public offices are still seen as a trust for the people. They ensure that the interest of the group is protected even when they insist on the most qualified. This accounts for the turbulent political atmosphere in their area as well as the ease with which they are removed of they remove themselves from national political offices.
The minority ethnic groups in positions of power are usually the great exponents of merit, hard work, morality and patriotism. Whenever they complain, their interest must have been infringed upon; otherwise, they are the articulate and aggressive marketers of every government. Unlike members of the majority ethnic groups, who are consciously working towards the control of economic and political power, they are only given to flamboyance, womanizing and endless ceremonies, thanksgiving, housewarming, chieftaincy titles, etc.
One hopes that the Anti-Corruption Commission will look more critically at the issue of chieftaincy titles for both the givers and receivers, including honorary degrees. These have been turned into veritable instruments of corruption.
The third problem the region has to cope with is that of leadership. Here, we are not talking of ethnic, village or local champions. We are talking of leadership with a national outlook, encompassing people, who have the interest of the region in mind and, who have the necessary resources to compete with those of the majority ethnic groups.
New and old political parties have been created in the country, which of them has Middlebelter as a presidential material? Are we saying that we are incapable of producing a candidate? Are we content with being chairmen of parties, who will later be removed, if they are found not to be conforming? If all we aspire is the chairmanship of parties, we have no business trying to carve out any region. Indeed, we are better off in the North.
The logic of it is in the old adage: ‘the devil you know is better than an angel you do not know.’ After all, our southern minority groups are daily trooping to the north seeking alliances with northern presidential candidates, whereas we are trying to create bridges of solidarity with them. Let us beware so that we are not left in the cold.
Finally, there is need for a meeting of the various Middle-Belt groups. The meeting has become imperative so as to address issues that confront the region. Group such as Middle-Belt Progressive Movement, Middle-Belt Forum, Middle-Belt Youth Forum, Benue Coalition, SOKAPU, Bwatiye Development Association, among others, should come together to adopt a common position on the belt; otherwise, the various groups will use the name of the region to achieve their selfish interests and dump the people. A word, they say, is enough for the wise.
Being a contribution of Mawela M. Buti, from Kaduna.
Culled from Our Vision magazine, October/November 2002